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Women in TransitTech: Corine Thommen.

  •   3 min read

In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series.

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Challenging the status quo takes diligence, determination, and vision — especially when it comes to an industry that hasn’t seen a seismic shift since the automobile was invented. And, as it turns out, it’s often women who choose to challenge these norms. In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities and inspiring their peers. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series here.

With a BA in social science and a MA in International Affairs, Corine Thommen looks at cities as a social system with a massive impact on worldwide developments like climate change – and mobility is a glue that holds the urban space together.  Besides working in innovation and being a project lead at the Swiss Railway, Corine has also worked in telecommunications and logistics and therefore appreciates the interdependencies in a city and strives to introduce new solutions for a positive impact.

What did 10-year-old Corine want to be when she grew up? How did you evolve from there to your current position in transportation?

I wasn’t a kid with outrageous dreams – at the end of elementary school, I wanted to be a teacher. Over the years, I drifted away from that idea, but kept my curiosity and my passion for learning, which is the foundation of my position in innovation and entrepreneurship.

What do you think are the most important qualities in a leader? Are there any leaders in particular you look up to?

For me, a good leader combines a high level of empathy to listen to people around her or him and the courage to pursue a vision of a future worth having. I am lucky to work with many inspiring people who incorporate these ideals into their daily life! 

What are the big transit challenges in your community that your team is solving with innovative mobility projects?

Sustainability and social inclusion are two topics close to my heart. Public transport in Switzerland already does a great job towards these goals but, nonetheless, many rely on their private car, especially in more rural areas. In our projects, we try to show people more sustainable alternatives – be it through pooled rides or other modes. Additionally, we search for innovative solutions to increase circular economy and to find new ways to increase efficiency and positive customer experiences while travelling by public transport. 

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge the transportation industry as a whole will have to tackle in the next 2-5 years?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a trend that – from a sustainability point of view – has been hanging on the horizon for a few years: Less mobility and more remote work. Although humans inherently like to travel and explore new places, I believe our lives will go back to a more local radius. This shift is a huge challenge for existing business models and planning scenarios in mobility. 

Tell us about a defining moment in your professional life that has helped guide you on your path.

During one of the pilots with on-demand services, I met an elderly woman who hadn’t been able to leave the house due to limited mobility. She managed to book a ride on our shuttle through a smartphone-savvy friend and was so happy to go to the shopping center for the first time in several months! This really opened my eyes to the potential of such services to foster social inclusion and cohesion.

And finally, what drives you? (Pun intended!)

Leveraging new technologies for social progress has been my passion and keeps me working towards testing and implementing innovative solutions!

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